News / Europe

EU Ministers Discuss Influx of Migrants

Migrants of North African origin who hold temporary travel documents issued by Italy gather near the ring road of Paris April 29, 2011.
Migrants of North African origin who hold temporary travel documents issued by Italy gather near the ring road of Paris April 29, 2011.
Lisa Bryant

European Union interior ministers meet in Brussels Thursday to discuss how to handle a wave of migrants flooding into their countries following the Arab uprisings in North Africa. 

Fading hopes

Near a highway on the edge of Paris, dozens of mostly Tunisian immigrants are camped out in a dusty park, living on sandwiches handed out by volunteers - and hope for a better life in Europe that is quickly fading.

Hamed Ben Garden, 25, is from the Tunisian island of Djerba.  He left Tunisia in February, heading to the Italian island of Lampedusa by boat - and then by train across Italy's border with France.

Ben Garden says he thought France would give him food and shelter, until he could find a job. But he cannot get legal papers.  And without papers, he cannot find a job.

European Union countries are now discussing how they should deal with Ben Garden and roughly 25,000 other North Africans who have flooded into the region since the Arab protests earlier this year.

Tougher stance

The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, has proposed toughening the 26-year-old Schengen agreement that allows for passport-free travel among 22 member nations, plus Switzerland, Iceland and Norway.

In a speech before the European Parliament Tuesday, commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the influx of African migrants highlighted weaknesses in Schengen.  The commission has proposed introducing temporary border controls but Barroso says dismantling Schengen would be a disaster.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Durao Barroso speaks during a news conference (file photo)
European Commission President Jose Manuel Durao Barroso speaks during a news conference (file photo)

"I firmly believe that to do so would catastrophically undermine not just what Europe has constructed over the last 61 years, but sabotage the viability of our efforts to build a prosperous and integrated Europe for the future," Barroso said.

Influx of migrants

A joint letter by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi prompted the Schengen discussions.  The two leaders want the Schengen treaty to be modified.  Italy has been the main country hit by the influx of North and sub-Saharan African migrants whose numbers surged following this year's Arab Spring.

Pierre Henry, head of the French immigration support group, France Terre d'Asile, says about half of the African migrants who arrived in Italy this year made their way to France.

Migrants of North African origin who hold temporary travel documents issued by Italy take part in the the annual May Day march in Paris, May 1, 2011. The posters read
Migrants of North African origin who hold temporary travel documents issued by Italy take part in the the annual May Day march in Paris, May 1, 2011. The posters read " we did the democratic revolution", "thanks for the welcome mister Sarkozy".

Henry compares their plight to the thousands fleeing across the borders of war-torn Libya into Tunisia in recent weeks.  He says Tunisia welcomed and sheltered these people.  By contrast, he says France and Europe have offered a police solution to Tunisian and other migrants arriving on their shores that he says is undignified.

Anneliese Baldaccini, European immigration expert for rights group Amnesty International, agrees that Europe should be welcoming and not shunning these migrants.

"We would like to see the European Union making a commitment towards governing the situation in a way that is consonant with the values that it stands for - taking its fair share in welcoming people, in receiving them and providing basic humanitarian needs," Baldaccini said.

Political bind

Hugo Brady, a Brussels-based analyst for the think-tank Center for European Reform, says French and Italian leaders who urged toughening Schengen are in a political bind - in part because of the rise of far-right, anti-immigration parties.

But Brady doubts border-free travel in Europe will be scrapped.

"The practicalities of the everyday won't allow for it," noted Brady.  "People value the convenience of being able to travel around Europe without a passeport.  It's a significant achievement that I think very few people will want to roll back. "

Among the Tunisians in the Paris park, Europe's tough welcome has been hard to endure.

You May Like

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs